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Uber should be regulated as a transport company rather than a technology provider, according to a non-binding opinion by the Advocate General at the EU’s top court.

The US ride hailing app “must be classified as a ‘service in the field of transport’”, which would leave the US group open to tighter regulation in Europe if the opinion were to be followed in the final judgment at the European Court of Justice later this year.

During the case, Uber argued that it was an “information society service”. EU law dictates that such digital service cannot be unnecessarily constrained by local authorities. However there is no such protection for transport companies, which must abide by local rules.

A summary of the opinion stated that Uber should be treated as a transport company because “the service of connecting passengers and drivers with one another by means of the smartphone application is a secondary component.”

Such opinions are not binding – and are sometimes ignored – by the court. The case will have ramifications for Uber across the EU, where it has faced an extremely tough regulatory ride.

Uber’s introduction was met with a mixture of riots, fines and even the arrest of senior executives in some cities, while the app was broadly welcomed in others, such as London.

A final decision by the ECJ is due later this year.

Uber said:

We have seen today’s statement and await the final ruling later this year. Being considered a transportation company would not change the way we are regulated in most EU countries as that is already the situation today. It will, however, undermine the much needed reform of outdated laws which prevent millions of Europeans from accessing a reliable ride at the tap of a button.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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